Residents Question PHA’s Hiring Practices at New Sharswood Townhomes
While the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) has been keen to herald the construction of 57 newly-built townhomes in Sharswood, local residents seeking employment are not so jubilant.
In May 2016, Spirit News reported that the PHA was not keeping its promise to hire neighborhood residents to build the townhomes. Upon completion of the houses in October 2016, resident Jeff Glenn told Spirit News that nothing had changed since then.
Glenn claimed that when residents were hired, they were subsequently terminated within three weeks of starting the job. Glenn observed that many license plates on the construction site were from New Jersey.
When the construction started last May, the PHA promised residents that they would hire 70 people from the neighborhood. According to Glenn, they failed to follow through on that commitment. Glenn said that the PHA hired contractors Domus, Geppert Bros. Inc. and TN Ward for the demolition of the Blumberg high rises and the construction of the new houses.
Glenn pointed out a loophole in the hiring contract between the PHA and the contractors. Section Three specifically states that if a contractor or subcontractor demonstrates that they have no need to subcontract or hire, or that it is unable to meet Section Three hiring requirements, the contractor can make a contribution to the PHA scholarship fund as a substitute for hiring.
According to PHA’s website, Section Three is a provision in the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Act of 1968 that is meant to provide economic opportunities to low and very low-income persons. These include recipients of government housing assistance. Section Three residents are either PHA residents or those who live in Philadelphia with a household income that is low or very low under HUD’s income limits.
“They could have hired people from the neighborhood to jumpstart their careers,” Glenn said.
The project was supposed to be completed last August, but it was instead finished in late October.
Some residents feel as though they are being uprooted senselessly from their community by the PHA through eminent domain.
The PHA also has not secured all the funding it needs for the seven-year development project. PlanPhilly reported that there are five to seven years left to complete the project, Calvin Jeremiah, CEO of the PHA, said the project is 70 percent funded and he is confident that the agency can secure the other 30 percent.
However, Glenn is critical of the PHA even starting such an ambitious project without all of the funding in place.
“PHA went full-steam ahead, uprooting people from their homes with eminent domain without the full funding for the project,” Glenn said.
Future funding is expected to come from Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal block grants, the PHA, city dollars and private sources.
According to Glenn, some homes that had been seized through eminent domain that once had occupants are now abandoned and vandalized.
Some homes have been hit with graffiti while another vandal broke into a house and stole pipes, Glenn explained.
“It’s worse,” Glenn said of the current condition of Sharswood. “It’s like blight all over again.”
The houses are black, tan and red brick buildings that occupy several blocks along 23rd and Jefferson Streets. They are a mix of one and two-bedroom duplexes, three and four-bedroom homes and triplexes.
When asked how he feels about the townhouses after they’ve been completed, Glenn responded, “I’m still not fond of it. The buildings aren’t even nice to look at. Revitalizing the neighborhood should be focused on beauty.”
Haron Ali, a resident who said he applied for work on the construction of the townhouses told Spirit News that he was never hired. He attended a job interview and never heard back.
While the housing authority still has more work to do in Sharswood, Ali said they are not hiring anyone else yet.
Ali is frustrated that he cannot even get hired in his own neighborhood.
“If I can’t work in my own community, where can I work?” he asked.
The PHA did not respond to inquiries regarding their hiring practices for Sharswood by press time. •